Author: Mary Kearl
Tags : Camping, Cheap Vacation, Eco-Tourism, Hiking, Kids, Multigen, National Parks, North America, Tips & Documents, USA
An enthusiastic family camper, let me share some resources for planning your next big USA camping trip, whether in a tent, RV or cabin, at any time of year in or outside the national parks.
Thousands of families go camping every year in North America, and over half of those visitors are children under 18 (the rest are usually still kids at heart). With that said, most campgrounds have adopted a kid-friendly attitude and have numerous activities geared toward a younger audience.
When I was growing up, summer meant going camping on our annual family reunions. Of course, there were things I hated, like the smell of insect repellant, my mom's spit baths, and the feel of rocks in the depths of my shoes. That is why, by the end of our many camping trips, I would usually end up bug-bitten and shoe-less. Things have changed in the past few years: insect repellent comes in neutral scents, mom has discovered hand sanitizer and moist towelettes, I can take care of my own hygiene needs, and well, the rocks they still stay stuck in my shoes. But camping still means family.
The following tips, guides and websites should help you decide if you're up for camping near an area of interest and if so, where and when you would like to go camping.
FTF Picks for Top Camping Resources
ReserveAmerica allows you to browse for campsite locations and make reservations all in one place. You can specify what kind of campsite you are looking for (RV, cabin, tent, etc), and browse these sites by camp or region. The website provides valuable information about each site, such as a short description, list of service and amenities, things to be aware of, and directions. Here you can also search for availability of each campsite, and make reservations online.
KOA, a well-known company in the camping business, has nearly 450 campgrounds in North America and Japan. These sites have hosted 250 million guests since the company was founded in 1962. Most KOA "Kampground" operators also own their campgrounds and try to maintain a family atmosphere by offering fun activities like hay rides, trail rides, outdoor waterslides in season, free WiFi and pancake breakfasts. KOA's website is filled with information about their affiliated campgrounds -- rates, locations, driving directions (it will even help you choose your route) and maps.
Typically, campgrounds boast KOA Kamping Kabins, Kottages and KOA Lodges, fitted out for families with bunk beds, covered porches with swings, picnic tables and campfire rings -- ideal for those who can't cope with setting up a tent or driving an RV. Some even offer instruction in pitching tents for novices. All KOA Kampgrounds have grocery stores stocked with camping staples, and there are pools, laundry rooms and other amenities, at many. And most welcome pets, too. In addition, the website allows you to sign up for a free online newsletter with updates about camping opportunities.
Association of RV Parks and Camping website provides a plethora of camping information, from traveler's tips, park reviews, camping vocabulary and lingo, and an inviting children section for the younger ones. It links you to individual campsites' websites, where you can see the fees, features, and directions for each location.
Online resources abound. For understanding what gear you need, how to select the best, and other helpful tips, turn to the Wonderful Wellies site (Wellies or Wellington rain boots are a must for U.K. campers). Social sites like Pinterest have a wealth of tried and true recipes for cooking over a campfire or barbecue grill.
Researching, Exploring & Staying in the National Parks
For me, camping always meant visiting a State or National Park. The National Park Service website allows you to search all of the National Parks from its alphabetical listing. Along with background information about each park, including its activities, history and climate, the website provides information about available campsites.
Some of the National Parks I most enjoyed visiting were Bryce Canyon (Utah), the Grand Canyon (Arizona), Glacier National Park (Montana), Yosemite (California), Death Valley (California) and Acadia National Park (Maine). At each new place, we would go to the Visitor Center, get maps, then swim, kayak, or hike. We would end the day by playing card games, kick-the-can or sardines, and then we would go to sleep, not in beds, but in sleeping bags. Our overnight stays in the National Parks let us become part of the nature we had come to explore.
While your personal experiences and family traditions may differ from mine, these web links will help you and your family decide what interest you, and what you want to explore.
Search the National Park Service parks by name, location, activities, or topic, providing a wide range of criteria to find your ideal park. This is a helpful way of finding locations that meet your unique criteria. Campers can make sure that campsites are located at the National Park they want to visit, by indicating camping as an interest. Many of the parks have a great collection of distinctive videos, often shot by park rangers, so you'll want the kids to pull up to the monitor and take a look with you.
The National Parks site also hosts a fun guide, the "The Zids Zone," catering to the young ones. It provides an interactive environment that shows kids a large number of kid-friendly and amusing activities, both educational and recreational, available across America's parks. The "History & Culture" section of the National Park Services' website provides valuable historical information and how to National Park services works to protect it.
The National Parks Services' Archeology Program includes archeological and historical facts about different parks where you might be considering camping. In some cases it also explains ongoing work at the parks. The National Heritage Areas section is an association of heritage areas that support heritage development and directs you to areas listed on the National Register of Historic Places. It includes maps and information about the places of historical significance, and all areas are divided by region.
Camping has not changed drastically over the years--it is still an affordable way for families to spend time in a unique environment together. But the planning for camping seems to have grown easier, making the possibilities seem limitless... as long as you plan ahead
Campsites or RV Parks in or near My Favorite National Parks
I asked my colleague Jennifer Guterman about her choices for national parks, because she knows a lot about RV travel. She says that most of America's national parks have campsites that accept RVs, though many don't have hook-ups and do have size regulations. Check Reserve USA or an individual park's website to begin your research.
Here are her favorite virtual resources and some campgrounds her family has enjoyed.
Glacier National Park (Montana)
Apgar Campground, at the southwest tip of Lake McDonald near the West Glacier entrance, is a favorite.
Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming)
Fishing Bridge RV Park, located in park, is popular.
Redwood National and State Parks (California)
Jedediah Smith Redwoods, Mill Creek, or Elk Prairie are in the parks.
If you're not sure whether to camp or hotel?
GoCampingAmerica.com is published by the National Association of RV Parks and Campgrounds and is a very helpful site. But they're the first to acknowledge that the kind of camping I grew up doing isn't for every family. Fortunately for your family, campgrounds are increasingly investing in comfortable fixed tents with cots, or rustic furnished cabins with bathrooms and kitchens (fully stocked), to better accommodate family reunions, millennials interested in the outdoors, and large groups that include people who don’t have an RV, are bug averse, or hate the idea of sleeping in a tent. Campground operators find adding comfort -- a trend known as glamping or glamorous camping -- to be a good business, too, because they reach a more diverse clientele, including families with children.
However, for purists like me, GoCampingAmerica.com also has an advanced search function that enables families to search for parks that offer nearly dozens of different activities and outdoor recreation, from biking and bird-watching to hunting and fishing, golfing and kayaking.
Links to information about outdoor recreation, festivals and special events in each of the 50 states are also provided along with helpful information for first time campers, such as “What to Pack” lists and recipes. In addition to model cabins, users will find parks that are uniquely suited for tent campers as well as parks that are big-rig friendly; family-oriented parks, pet-friendly parks, age-restricted parks as well as parks that offer nude recreation (though this warrants a family discussion!)
You can book reservations online for a variety of campgrounds, including campgrounds and RV parks with RV rentals as well as cabins, park models, yurts and teepees. Major campground chains, such as Leisure Systems Inc., which franchises Yogi Bear’s Jellystone Park Camp Resorts (an FTF awrad winner) and those that offer AAA, AARP, FMCA, Good Sam and other popular discounts can be booked as well.